Friday, January 13, 2017

The Annual Band Marathon Never Fails to Please

Even though I don't do a whole lot of pure blogging right now, you can always count on something from me on the second or third Friday in January: The annual high school All-Region Band concert in the region where I teach.

The concert is really a series of five mini-concerts, with each band--a freshman band and four high school bands (which freshmen can make as well, but they surrender their chair in the freshman band if they do), all at 45-minute intervals. That way, if family members are only attending for their kid's band, they can make way for others to be seated (I have no idea if any school auditorium could hold the families of all five bands' members, plus all the directors and private teachers, not to mention the members of other bands who stick around to see their friends play). Also, having preset starting times allows the families of the later bands to show up as close to the downbeat as possible.

As always, what follows is not in any way a review of the concert, but instead some random thoughts that entered my mind as I was listening:

  • I mention every year that, as a whole, I prefer the newer "wind ensemble" music to the older "band" music, but a well-played classic will still thrill me, especially if it's something I've played before. This year, almost all the music was new to me, save for the occasional march used to cap off a group's program. A lot of lesser-known (at least to me) new composers were represented (Ryan George, Ryan Nowland, and Daniel Weinberger, to name a few), and there are some brilliant fanfares out there that started a few bands' performances on an energetic note. And I was reminded how much I like Brian Balmages' music; it was extremely cool that the band who played two of his pieces Skyped him in during part of this morning's rehearsal.
  • One of the bands used student announcers to introduce each piece, which I thought was a nice touch. It wasn't that the clinician himself didn't talk, but it was cool to hear some different voices from the mic, and I'm sure it was a thrill for the kids (and their parents).
  • Speaking of...well, speaking, all the clinicians engaged with the audience (there have been times where some of them have barely said a word). As I've noted in previous years, since the programs often read "to be selected from the following" and then list a variety of pieces which may or may not be played, it's crucial for the audience to know what they are about to hear, or just heard. Plus, as I see it, an engaged clinician just makes a better impression on the audience.
  • Kudos to the organizers for doing something I've asked for in these pages for years: Listing composers by first and last names, instead of just last names. It's one thing if you say "Sousa" (most people won't mistake John Philip for some random guy named Fred Sousa or something), but with so many new composers being programmed, it's good to provide more information.
  • It wasn't as chronic as in years past, but there still were some problems with door etiquette among certain audience members. If you have to leave, please do so quickly and quietly, and make sure the door doesn't slam behind you. Several of the pieces had very soft introductions, and I hope none of the door slams made it onto the recording.
  • The one thing I've noticed this year that's different among the announcements to the audience is the one about TMEA licensing agreements prohibiting recording of the concerts...and all I can say is, it's about time! And believe it or not--save for the one guy at last weekend's middle school concert who had a full-on camcorder with a tripod--people are obeying the request. It's so nice to be able to watch the whole concert from anywhere in the auditorium, instead of through someone's iPad.
  • Only one more comment about the audience: I bet there's at least one person who will have better concert etiquette next time, after their not-whispered conversation wafted into the auditorium during an unexpected grand pause in one of the marches...)
  • I sometimes use this annual post as a chance to brag on my studio (as in how many of my students made the bands); it's smaller this year because of some heightened commitments elsewhere, but I still had students in three of the five bands (even if one of them made a band on an instrument other than the one I teach him). It's always nice to be able to stand up when private teachers and directors of the students on stage are recognized.
  • Even if I don't have a student in the top band, I always stay for the entire concert. Why? Among other things, because the college directors who have the top two bands always do amazing things, especially considering the short time they have (Thursday evening and Friday morning/afternoon) with their bands. Texas is famous for its school band programs, and when you combine the cream of the crop with some inspiring university bandmasters, some magical things happen. Kudos to Bobby Francis from TCU (Wind Ensemble, aka top band) and Dennis LlinĂ¡s from LSU (Wind Symphony, aka second band) for bringing so much out of these young musicians in such a short time.
This concert is always an important part of my year; I get to celebrate the accomplishments of some of my students and their friends, hear some great new music, and spend more time with some of the directors I teach with than I do during a busy school week. I know what I'll be doing on a Friday night in January a year from now, and I'll take to the keyboard again when I get home.